Big Trouble in Little Joplin II

Life is never easy for immigrants in a foreign land.  The Chinese immigrants in Joplin had to deal with much more than simply petty crime as this story reveals.

Jung Gue, owner of a laundry on West Fifth Street, was not about to let “Dirty Billy” Williams rough him up.

The shirtless Chinese immigrant, clad only in a coat and trousers, testified in police court [as rendered by a Globe reporter], “Boy name Slim Bacon bring laundry to me. I think him velly good boy. He want to change him shirt and put clean shirt on. I telly him to go in back room and he go.”

When Slim Bacon, described as a “young street urchin” who occasionally worked as a waiter in a nearby “chop suey parlor,” departed the premises, he took Jung Gue’s only shirt with him. As Jung Gue told the police judge, “When he gone I find my shirt gone. Only shirt me have. Cost two, three dollars, maybe.”

The laundryman continued, “Yesterday Slim, he come back. I look at him and he got two shirt on, one mine. I try to make him give me shirt, him velly bad. Den dis boy, he name ‘Dirty Billy,’ he hold me, grab me around like dis and Slim, he run away, and Dirty Billy, him velly bad, him pick up rock and say him will throw rock on me. I call de policeman.”

As explained by the Globe reporter, Gue and Hop Chow Lee were about to make Slim hand over the stolen shirt when “Dirty Billy” Williams “butted into the argument, held Jung until Slim had fled, and then threatened Jung with a stone. Billy very patriotically declared to the judge that he wasn’t going to let any Chink run over a white man.”

Judge Bourn, however, disagreed with Dirty Billy and fined him $3 and costs. Bourn declared, “I never knew of these Chinamen ever bothering anybody. They tend to their own business, but there is a crowd of boys around there forever bothering them, and I am going to put a stop to it.”

Bourn, according to the reporter, had patronized Gue’s laundry for five years. This prompted Dirty Billy’s attorney to declare Bourn was prejudiced, but Bourn overruled on “account of the absurdity of a man being friendly to a man who had done his laundry for five years.” Before leaving the courtroom Gue shook hands with Bourn, who bid Gue ‘good evening’ in Chinese. The Chinese immigrant crowed to the Globe reporter, “Judge Bourn him velly good man.”

As for Slim Bacon, he was declared a fugitive and was doubtlessly still clad in Jung Gue’s good shirt.

Source: The Joplin Globe

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher — Part IV

Historic Joplin believes in allowing the people of the past to speak for themselves.  As a result, the language they use may offend those sensitive to harmful words that are no longer acceptable in today’s present society.

The Story of Bear Fighting Blackwell

“The First dry goods store in West Joplin was started next to ‘Big Nigger’ Lee’s grocery store by a man the name of D.M.  Brazill, in the fall of 1871.

One old timer who arrived in Joplin about this time and who furnished considerable amusement was a man known as ‘Bear Fighting’ Blackwell.  He brought four big bears with him and for some time after he arrived he kept his business to himself.  Finally, after he had things ready, he advertised a dog and bear fight.  After all was ready he stretched a large canvas around a space which was filled on the day of the fight by the village sports.  In the center of the space he had a big grizzly chained to a stake and surrounding him were five or six youngsters holding their dogs.

Betting was at a high pitch and as well as I can remember it was about 2 to 3 to one on the bear.  When all was ready for the fight, Blackwell gave the bear a big plate of honey and after it had the plate he yelled, ‘Turn your dogs loose!’ The fur flew and it looked as if the dogs would soon use up the bear.  When it was all over the bear was uninjured while there were several dogs limping around.

The bears were turned over to the butcher and Mr.  Blackwell used the money which he had accumulated to build a nice brick building at the corner of Second and Main streets.  This was the first opera house in West Joplin, but the dog and bear fight or something else brought ‘Bear Fighting’ Blackwell bad luck, and the old man got into trouble and was sent to the penitentiary.  Several years after that he was turned out and went to Oklahoma, where he married a squaw who had a large tract of land and plenty of money.  He laid out the land in town lots and was the founder of the present city of Blackwell.”

Drawing of A.J. "Bear Fighting" Blackwell

Drawing of Henry "Bear Fighting" Blackwell in his later years.

This concludes G.O.  Boucher’s memories of early Joplin.

Source: Joplin Globe.

Death of a Soiled Dove

Joplin’s North End was riddled with “immoral resorts” filled with young women.  Mamie Johnson was one of many who walked the streets of Joplin.  Her life tragically came to an end at the age of thirty-three after she abandoned her husband of four years and two children and took up the profession of a scarlet woman.  But her life as a lady of the night must have worn her down, for in the end Mamie’s life was cut short by her own hand.

Mamie, whose real name was allegedly Minerva Rickey, was the daughter of a “well-to-do” farmer from the Kansas City.  At a young age she eloped with John Gordon, a young farmer, and settled down.  After four years and two children, however, Mamie left her family and strolled into Joplin and a life of vice.  Shortly before her death, she had confided to an aunt who lived in Joplin that her husband had mistreated her.  The two had reportedly divorced.

One day life was too much for Mamie to bear and she overdosed on ten cent dose of morphine.  She was discovered in her room by Frank Wilsey, a laundryman for the Empire Steam Laundry, when he dropped off a bundle of clothes at her room.  Word quickly spread throughout Joplin’s tenderloin district and “many touching scenes were witnessed as the unfortunate creatures crowded about and gazed upon the face of their dead sister.” A letter was found in her room addressed to Bessie Blair.

The text of the letter read,

Joplin, Mo.  July, 27, 1898.

Dear Friend Bessie:

I will write this for you and leave it for you.  I may not get to talk to you or see you anymore.  But my bedroom suit you can have for that fine, but give my clothes to my aunt.  That is all I want, but would like for you to come as I want to send word home.  I would like for you to see them as soon as possible, for my clothes, my trunk, and things is all I ask of you to let them have.  Well, I am satisfied and hope you will be.  Tell them to go down to the wash woman’s and give up three dollars for clothes there.  I would like to have my aunt come as soon as you get this note.

Do not think nothing as you know what caused it.  You will not be out nothing as my folks will take care of me.  I suppose you will be satisfied when you see, anyway.  You have been a friend to me and not a friend.  And I hope when the girls see this they will take warning by me.  Bessie, it is hard to do, but I cannot help it.  I hope you will be satisfied with Minnie [Mamie’s roommate] as she is a good girl, and will treat you right.  I send my love and best regards and hope you will not take a foolish idea like I have took.  Kiss them all for me.  Tell Pearl she is all right.  Time is drawing near and will have to close.

Good bye.
from your Mamie Gordon to my dear friend Bess, 1,000 kisses to all you I will go to hell tonight.

Interestingly, the letter was dictated by Mamie to her lover, Ernest Boruff, who testified at the coroner’s inquest that the two had quarreled a few weeks earlier after some of his clothes went missing.  They quarreled again after he wrote the letter for her and he subsequently left.  He claimed that he did not suspect Mamie had suicidal intent and swore that she “was not in the habit of using morphine.” Bessie Blair also testified at the coroner’s inquest and stated that Mamie had threatened suicide several times during the past month.

After Mamie Gordon’s funeral, the coroner’s jury issued the following verdict:

“We, the jury, find that Mamie Gordon came to her death form an overdose of drugs, taken by herself presumably with suicidal intent.”

W.M.  Whiteley, Coroner
Dave K.  Weir
Samuel Cox
A.C.  James
J.M.  Graham
Ed Trimble
A.  Malang

Life as a prostitute was not a happy one, and more likely than not, one that women simply fell into due to misfortune and bad circumstance.  At least some had addictions to cocaine or morphine, and as Mamie Gordon’s letter warned, one that could easily end in the death of a soiled dove.

Source:  Joplin Globe

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher: Part III

Boucher opens Joplin’s first saloon

“The price of town lots in Joplin in those days would hardly compare with the prices of today.  On the northwest corner of Main and Second streets were two vacant lots an through advice of Pat Murphy I bought them for $25.  I built a small building and September 1, 1871, J.C.  McCurdy and myself opened up the first regular saloon in Joplin.  At this time this was the tenth building finished in West Joplin.  It was later moved to the alley where it now fronts the police station.  It was used for some time as the Herald office.  As well as I remember, the saloon had been running about three weeks, business was good, and the miners crowded the place from opening until closing time.  One day a miner wandered in and asked: ‘When do you scrub out here?’ Now I had never given the scrubbing proposition a thought and I said, ‘Well, I expect it does need scrubbing, but where is a fellow to get the water?’ ‘Well,’ said the miner, ‘I will go hitch up old Nell and haul a barrel of water from down on the corner.’  We went to work and this is the way the first saloon in Joplin received its first scrubbing.

1872 Street Scene of Joplin, Missouri

A street scene from Joplin in 1872.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joel T. Livingston’s “A History of Jasper County, Missouri, and her people.”

One Less Round Barn in America

In the spring blizzard experienced just a couple weeks ago, a great amount of snow was dumped onto the four states area.  A victim to this late winter hurrah was a unique and rare round barn located just south of Joplin on Saginaw road.  Incidentally, the farm was owned by John C. Cox, one of Joplin’s wealthiest citizens, and his family later had it built around 1909.  The Joplin Globe posted an article this weekend noting its history and the costly, and apparently fatal, damage that it sustained from the recent snows.

Read it here: Joplin Globe, “Storm Damages Local Landmark.”

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher: Part II

The Story of Goldmacher

“One of the old time business men who must not be neglected is an old German by the name of Goldmacher.  He was known to everybody as ‘Moneymaker.’  He erected a building next to Martin’s store. ‘Moneymaker’ built a bake oven and sold bread to the miners.  They were camped up and down Joplin creek.  He also had a supply of cheese, crackers, bologna, and sausage.  He kept a keg of beer on tap at all times.  He brought the beer from Baxter Springs. ‘Moneymaker’ attended strictly to business and paid particular attention to what his name signified.  The town grew rapidly, the miners kept drifting in and he as successful in business.

Everything went well until a gang of miners got into ‘Moneymaker’s’ place one night and got pretty well ‘stewed up.’  ‘Moneymaker’ had a dog which he valued highly.  A part of the bunch stayed inside and kept him interested, while the others got the old man’s dog and strung him to Murphy and Davis’ awning.  All was lovely until the next morning when ‘Moneymaker’ discovered his dog hanged by the neck until dead.  The old man threatened vengeance and posted the following notice in his place of business:

‘I vill gif ten dollars to eny tam rascal vat will dell me vat chentlemens hung my tog mit Murphy’s porch on.’

Boucher did not say whether or not Goldmacher caught the men who killed his dog.

Source: Joplin Globe

Death of a Gambling Man

William “Bill” Chenault was a well-known “sporting man” throughout the four state region who made gambling his vocation.  He had lived in Joplin for years, but was living in Oklahoma City at the time of his death.  The son of a judge from Springfield, Missouri, Chenault “was on the border his entire life.”  As a young man, he arrived in Joplin and made “lots of money.”  When the town began to grow old, he moved further west to Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas.  Bill “was lucky” but made sure to look after the less fortunate.  He would reportedly hunt up “some poor stranger who had not been handled kindly by the world and help him, put clothes on his back, or a square meal in his stomach” even though his money was easy come, easy go.  That, according to the Globe, was Bill Chenault.

Photograph of gamblers from turn of the century.

From the same time period, an example of men gambling around a roulette wheel in Reno, Nevada.

He was also remembered for his sense of humor.  One winter in Fort Scott, Kansas, the temperature dropped below zero.  When his friends began to complain, Bill put on a thin linen duster and a straw hat, and then went out in the cold.  “It is said he nearly froze to death, but he had his fun.”  During another cold winter in Wichita, a movement began to try to help the less fortunate, but it was a sham.  When Bill found out, he personally went out and bought a carload of coal and oversaw its distribution to the poorest families of the city.

Bill, like most men, had his share of demons.  He began drinking and his health subsequently went into decline.  Still, the Globe remarked, “those who know him best appreciate the kind disposition he had and the ever willing hand that went out to a friend when something was needed.”

Source: Joplin Globe 1904, Library of Congress

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher — Part I

In the early months of 1910, a Globe reporter stopped by the home of G.O. Boucher at the corner of Joplin and Twentieth Streets to interview him about historic Joplin.  Boucher gladly obliged him.  Here at Historic Joplin our philosophy is to allow the voices of the past speak for themselves in their own words with as little interference as possible, even if we abhor the usage of some of the language used.  For those sensitive to the use of racial slurs, it may be for the best to skip this entry as it does include some graphic language.   What follows are Boucher’s recollections in his own words as they appeared in the Joplin Globe.

“I came from Mineralville in the spring of 1871 in company with John Sergeant, at that time a partner of E.R. Moffet.  They were the first men to start the wheel rolling for the building of the present city of Joplin.  Among the men who were interested in this undertaking were Pat Murphy and W.P. Davis who laid out the first forty acres in town lots, on which the largest and most valuable buildings of the city now stand.

The first air furnace built in the Joplin mining district was constructed by Moffet and Sergeant.  T. Casady, a man from Wisconsin, handled the first pound of mineral which was smelted in this district in the mill erected by them.  The smelter was located in the Kansas City Bottoms between East and West Joplin.  A. Campbell, H. Campbell, A. McCollum, and myself were the first smelter employees in this district.  The fuel used in the smelter was cordwood and dry fence rails, which were hauled from the surrounding country.  The first men who handled rails and sold to the smelters were Warren Fine and Squire Coleman, the latter now living in Newton County.

The hotel accommodations at that time were poor and the first ‘beanery’ was a 24×16 foot shack erected by H. Campbell.  His family occupied the house and they boarded the smelter crew.  We found sleeping quarters wherever we could find room to pitch our tents. the boys would stretch their tents and then forage enough straw to make a bed and this was the only home known to them.  E.R. Moffet and myself slept in the smelter shed on a pile of straw and for some time we slept in the furnace room on the same kind of bed.  About the last of August of the same year Mr. Campbell erected what was then quite a building.  It was two stories high, four rooms on the ground floor, and two above.  This was at the southwest corner of Main and First Streets, now called Broadway.  Just about this time Davis and Murphy began the erection of a store building just across the street from the hotel.

Photograph of one of Joplin's first hotels, the Bateman Hotel

Another early hotel was the Bateman hotel, moved from Baxter, Kansas, to Joplin in 1872. It promptly burned down three years later.

Speaking of the first business building erected in Joplin, William Martin built a 16×16 box building on Main Street between First and Second Streets and put in about $125 worth of groceries and a small load of watermelons.  Soon after this, a man known as ‘Big Nigger Lee’ established a grocery store on the opposite side of the street from Martin.  He put in a larger stock but did not have as good a trade as Martin on account of having no watermelons.  Some of the older residents remember ‘Big Nigger’ Lee as he was in business here for several years.”

More to come from the reminiscences of G.O. Boucher and in the future, Historic Joplin will address the issue of racism in Joplin to provide a clearer picture of how hatred affected the city’s African American citizens.

Source: Joplin Globe, “A History of Jasper County, Missouri, and Its People,” by Joel T. Livingston.

Happy Birthday, Joplin!

On March 23, 1873, the Missouri legislature passed a bill presented by T.M. Dorsey and Judge John H. Taylor.  On that day, the City of Joplin was born.  On that day in March, Joplin counted around four thousand citizens, no paved streets or roads, and only seventeen lead furnaces.  All but a few of Joplin’s buildings were built of wood and many homes were simply tents and small box-houses.  By appointment of the governor, E.R. Moffett was made the first mayor of Joplin.  Joel T. Livingston, in his massive History of Jasper County, republished an article from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat which described the people of Joplin as full of “pluck and industry” and who overcame severe disadvantages through sheer, “abundant nerve.”

Today, Joplin turns 137 years old.  Happy Birthday, Joplin!

Heck No — We Won’t Wear Helmets!

On a hot summer night 1904, the Joplin City Council was in session when someone raised the issue of the “dress of the Joplin policemen.”  A simple complaint about enforcing Joplin’s helmet ordinance revealed many of the underlying problems plaguing the Joplin police force.  Like many law enforcement agencies at this time, the Joplin police force was undermanned, underpaid, and overworked.  They were expected to maintain law and order in a city wracked by cocaine abuse, plagued by saloons, riddled with gambling dens, and infested with men ready to fight at the drop of a hat.  Wearing a helmet was of little concern to a member of the Joplin police force.

Cartoon concerning requirement of Joplin Police to wear a helmet.

The mood of the Joplin Police officers were quite the opposite as expressed in this cartoon.

Councilman Kost reminded attendees that the council had previously passed an ordinance requiring police officers to wear helmets and carry a “policeman’s club of certain size.”  According to Kost, few members of the Joplin police force were complying with the ordinance.  The Joplin Globe noted that prior to the ordinance, Joplin police officers were allowed to wear “slouch hats” and very few carried a club.

Councilman Lane shrugged off Kost’s remarks and suggested that the ordinance need not be enforced, but Mayor Thomas W. Cunningham disagreed. Cunningham opined, “the ordinance was not passed for amusement and that it should be lived up to by all policemen.”

One unnamed Joplin police officer who spoke to a Globe reporter proclaimed, “If I am compelled to wear a helmet or lose my position on the force, I will lose my position.  You cannot realize until you have worn one how hot a helmet is.  I wore one when I first went on the force, but will never do so again.  Fired up, the police officer continued, “And as for clubs, it is very foolish for the council to attempt to force a man to carry a club in his hand.  Every time a patrolman makes an arrest he has to drop his club in order to handle his man.”

The real problem, the police officer snorted, was that city council members “want to see a metropolitan police force on a suburban salary. If the council will pay its police force a salary, the city will not only be able to get better men, but the men will have enough money to buy a belt in which to carry the ornamental club.”

A second Joplin police officer agreed, “Not a helmet for me. I wear what I can get.  If the city of Joplin wants me to wear a helmet while on duty the city will have to put up for it as I can’t afford to buy one.”  He continued, “The police force of Joplin now numbers twelve men.  Five men patrol the business section of the city during the day and the same number are on at night.  From noon until midnight there is one man on duty in East Joplin and another at Smelter Hill.  The twelve men are doing the work of sixteen men.  One man on the force walks from Fourth Street to C Street covering six blocks of territory in the toughest section of the city.  There isn’t even a man to drive the patrol wagon yet we must make a showing and wear a helmet and a club.”

Curiously there was no mention of the death of Joplin police officer John Ledbetter who was killed the previous summer by a rock wielding assailant, though a helmet may not have been enough to save his life.  Unfortunately, helmets and clubs were not enough to save the lives of subsequent Joplin police officers killed in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

Source: The Joplin Globe